Developer: Eva Kiss
Interviewed by: Sihil
Today we’re chatting with Eva Kiss to know how she manages it all AND manages to dish the updates out so quickly.
Eva Kiss is an adult game developer famous for the game called Our Red String a visual novel that somehow manages to do everything right. It baffles me, really. Wouldn’t have thought it possible, every game does at least either the gameplay, the story, or the characters poorly but not this one. Oh, and that’s not even counting the replay value it has.
Like 4MinuteWarning the developer of Ravager (you can check the interview here), Eva Kiss was also inspired by the Dragon Age series. Other inspirations were Mass Effect and Katie’s corruption by 3diddly. She “wanted to recreate that feeling of agency, giving the player choices that matter and that shape not only your character but the world around you, making you feel really immersed in the game, that you're actually playing your own, personal story.”
Early concepts for Our Red String:
She clearly succeeded in doing that even in the first game of hers, named Good girl gone bad but she takes things a step further in this game. Because, in her words: “an artist’s goal is to improve and make better games, not worse”.
The one thing that takes this game apart from its contemporaries is that even though you’d expect a game like this to have a blank-slate protagonist, both of the main characters have strong, unique personalities and don’t get pushed into a stereotype, this is true for all characters which makes them feel like real people and not cardboard cutouts. In her own words, "ORS my philosophy was about making a more focused approach. GGGB was fun because the possibilities were really wide, but that meant they felt a bit shallow. With ORS I wanted to go deeper and develop it's themes and possibilities in a more narrow but richer way. The themes of the game are personal and emotional connections between characters, so it was natural to make Ian and Lena have a more defined and complex personality. They are not so much blank slates that you can mold as you want, but defined characters you can guide and change through choices that affect how they relate to the world and characters around them, exploring who they are and discovering who can they become."
PEOPLE REACT TO WHAT YOU CREATE, AND THE ARTIST'S IDENTITY SHOULD ONLY BE PORTRAYED IN HIS ART
Now with all this said, it’d be so easy, I mean so easy to create a great game out of all of this alone. But the game also has interesting RPG mechanics that has four basic skills: physical strength, charisma, intelligence, and the one skill that everyone would max out; lust. Specializing in a particular build unlocks specific scenes that add a lot of replay value. On top of that, the game has a will-power stat that while not necessarily tied to morality like you might think if you’ve played GGGB is essentially a checkpoint for important plot points. Explaining the will stats, Eva Kiss tells us, "Will points are not necessarily tied to morality. You earn them by taking the characters to places that align with their needs or desires, like helping them make progress on their dreams or navigating their personal relationships in a certain manner."
The game is, while probably won’t be as dark as GGGB was in places, will have its share of fucked-upness. This is great as what we will have will be more grounded and realistic, and by extension hotter. "ORS feels, in general, more grounded than GGGB, and this time my goal is not so much to push branching to the extreme, but to go deeper into those interactive branching mechanics. So, dark paths, yeah, for sure. Not as outlandish, but with the deeper emotional connection the player has to ORS cast, maybe they will feel even more potent and engaging"
Now, most H-games avoid things like themes and other higher-level creative concepts like the plague they are. For instance, in dreams of desire, you don't really acknowledge that you're mind-controlling the step-landlady and the step-roommates. But ORS defies your expectation here as well, here's what Eva had to say about quoting Nietszche during the date with Seymour when you're playing as Lena: "I found Nietzsche's three metamorphoses to be very adequate to show who Seymour is and how he thinks: he's cultured, he's intelligent, and he has this very power-centric interpretation on Nietzsche's philosophy. I like the stories I write to have some deeper themes to them when possible and this seemed like a good way to show some complexity on character's personality and moral stances that I hope people will find interesting." Not many games go this deep with the character that's not even a MC.
Evolution of art:
So yeah, the game is clearly a product of great passion and skill, and the excitement of Eva Kiss explaining everything was contagious. But the time was finite. So we had to move on to another topic: the dev herself.
She started out as an aspiring artist who got drawn to the world of adult games by Katie’s corruption. She was struggling at the time but her hard work paid off with GGGB and what she learned from that game to ORS to create a better one. It genuinely makes me happy to see when a good artist gets better with time.
Honestly, if you ask me, the way the game is written, the way the scenes are framed, it’s obvious to me that the person creating them is a woman. But apparently, there’s a significant portion of people who believe the game was created by a dude. Eva Kiss herself neither confirms nor denies this. So we can only speculate, explicate and masturbate. I know I am calling her a “she” the whole time but she said “you can use whatever pronouns you want” so yeah *shrugs*.
When asked about the role of her gender when creating the game, her response was so good that I HAVE to quote the whole thing:
“Sex and gender seem to be the most important topic in culture these days, but honestly, to me, it has made no difference at all. People react to what you create, and the artist's identity should only be portrayed in his art. After all, I've always worked behind a pseudonym and Eva Kiss could be seen as just another character that I use to express myself creatively. My goal when I entered the adult VN scene was to provide a new take in a genre that I felt had too many stories that felt written by a horny 15 year old boy, and a more "feminine" perspective could be refreshing and exciting. There has always been speculation about Eva Kiss' gender, and I find it funny: some people say it's clear the way some scenes are written could only have come from a woman's mind, while some other feel like they are obviously the handiwork of a male writer. In the end, a writer has to embody their characters somehow, and we all have a masculine-feminine polarity inside ourselves, maybe that's why I felt compelled to make a dual protagonist game in ORS, where you play both sides. In any case, I haven't felt that being perceived as "female" has affected my standing whatsoever as a dev, and people haven't been really interested in what's between my legs, but in the games and characters, I create. And that's something I feel proud of and what an artist should aim for, I suppose.”
Yeah, see what I told you about not confirming or denying? If you’re curious to read the interview in its entirety you can do so below. A few minutiae of the interactions and emojis will escape you occasionally. That is because I couldn’t find a way to include them in the transcript and NOT because I am socially awkward, okay?
The art process:
We invite you to read the whole Interview below:
Sihil: Awesome. Let's begin! Sihil: So here's the first question: Sihil: What games inspired you to create our Red String? Can you share an early concept art for the game? Eva: To tell the truth, I barely played any adult VNs before starting to create my own. My main influences were mainstream games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, some of Telltale games and Banner Saga, which I really enjoyed. And when I was a kid I always liked those "choose your own adventure" books. Basically, I just wanted to recreate that feeling of agency, giving the player choices that matter and that shape not only your character, but the world around you, making you feel really immersed in the game, that you're actually playing your own, personal story. That has always been the part I most enjoyed from interactive games, and never found an experience that was 100% satisfying, so I wanted to attempt my own take on that. What finally pushed me to get started was discovering another Ren'py VN called Katie's Corruption. It looked rather crude but I saw the amazing potential on it's mechanics. I thought, "if this guy can do it, I should be able to, too!" so I used that game as a bit of a template for my first VN, Good Girl Gone Bad. About early concept art for ORS, you can find it on my Patreon post, but let me see if I can dig out some real quick Sihil: Man, these Dragon Age games must be really good to influence two of my favorite devs Sihil: Speaking of GGGB, generally devs tend to make their MCs as much of a blank slate as possible. Even Ashley's past didn't matter as much to the story but in ORS, both Ian and Lena have interesting personalities and are quite opinionated in their own ways. What made you try this different sort of approach? Eva: I didn't want to repeat GGGB's formula, not in the same exact way. Ashley was a very easy character to customize and you could take her in wildly different directions, and it was really fun to push that aspect of the game. But with ORS my philosophy was about making a more focused approach. GGGB was fun because the possibilities were really wide, but that meant they felt a bit shallow. With ORS I wanted to go deeper and develop it's themes and possibilities in a more narrow but richer way. The themes of the game are personal and emotional connections between characters, so it was natural to make Ian and Lena have a more defined and complex personality. They are not so much blank slates that you can mold as you want, but defined characters you can guide and change through choices that affect how their relate to the world and characters around them, exploring who they are and discovering who can they become
Sihil: One thing I noticed was that while GGGB was by no means a bad game, ORS seems to be a class apart with respect to its writing. Not a question but I really gotta compliment you on how your writing has improved Eva: Thanks! As an artist my goal is to improve and make better games, not worse Sihil: So, this brings me to my next question, I'm sure you've noticed how much the players are getting attached to the characters. You recently conducted a poll that determined who're the players' favorite male and female NPCs, I was a little offended when I saw Allison wasn't no. 1. Who’re your favorite waifu and em... husbando(?) from the game? Eva: This is always a tricky question! I try to create different characters that are interesting in their own way, and some bring to the table stuff that others can't. Besides, depending on your choices the same character can end up becoming two (or more) very different versions of itself. Of course the lead characters are my favourites (that's why I chose them as the leads) but I enjoy writing each member of the supporting cast for different reasons. I have a lot of fun with Seymour's manipulative antics, Axel's intensity or Jeremy's "bro-ness", and I like Ivy's self-assured attitude, Holly's sweetness and everyone's favourite, Cindy, for... reasons haha.
Sihil: Jeremy is a true bro.There aren't many ongoing games that I'm genuinely excited to see the satisfying endings of and ORS is one of them. How close do you think you are to the end? Eva: That's hard to tell, but I know there's still a long way to get there. The plot has finally kicked into high gear in chapters 6 and 7, but there are still tons of plot-lines to develop and even introduce. My early estimate was that ORS would have no less than 20 chapters, but I can't really say. I like to develop my stories as organically as possible and I have a ton of ideas I'd like to add to the game, but I also know development can become really complex and cumbersome on the late stages, and I will need to keep things balanced. Sihil: Well, if the first few chapters are any indication, I'm sure you'll nail it One thing you've implemented really well in this game is the RPG system, the stats are simple yet create a great lot of variation in the gameplay, well aside from the fact that everyone would max out their lust stat. How did you get the idea for it? Eva: It's honestly not a very original idea, haha. I like to craft my branching storylines based on narrative choices rather than on stats, but I feel certain stats are necessary. As a gameplay element, they allow the player to assess how their choices are affecting his standing in-game, and numerical skills are a quick and easy way to relate that information to the player. In any case, GGGB had a very simple, binary Good/Bad karma system, and I wanted to expand on that. Being naughty or nice was way too simplistic and I decided to define the characters by the most elementary characteristics that could be used in the game's interactions, Wits, Charisma, Athletics, and Lust. And I also added Will like a special currency that unlocks certain events. This is something I saw being used in mobile games, but they ask for money to reveal content to you. I despise those practices, so I implemented that same idea but without charging people with infuriating micro-transactions: all you need to do is play the game smart and you'll unlock special Will points. Sihil: Will power stat is certainly a very interesting concept Spice: Yeah makes you more invested in the game I think Sihil: I was actually surprised to find few points of will where I completely didn't expect them. Spice: Did the introduction of skills change the planning aspect? Is it way harder now? Eva: That was the idea, making some more "gamey" mechanics to increase player interactions with the game systems Sihil: It makes me curious, how will the willpower stat work in the future. If the player makes more "moral" choices, would it unlock more scenes, or will power wouldn't depend on morality in itself? Eva: (replying to spice) It can be hard to balance how many points are earned and in which situations, especially when you don't have a completed game but are working chapter by chapter. And sometimes I have to think about ways of using those skills, or they become irrelevant. But it's not so different from the Good/Bad point system. I try to use it when it feels adequate, but in the end, plot driven choices are always more important than stat requirements Replying to Sihil: Will points are not necessarily tied to morality. You earn them by taking the characters to places that align with their needs or desires, like helping them make progress on their dreams or navigating their personal relationships in a certain manner. Sihil: A bit of a tangent here but it was a pleasant surprise to see thus spoke Zarathustra getting referenced in a H-game. It does make sense within context of Seymour's characterization that he'd perceive himself as the Ubermensch. Besides, as everyone knows, there's nothing sexier than dead philosophers, so can we expect more Nietzsche references in the future? Eva: Hahaha it's possible, it's possible. I found Nietzsche's three metamorphoses to be very adequate to show who Seymour is and how he thinks: he's cultured, he's intelligent, and he has this very power-centric interpretation on Nietzsche's philosophy. I like the stories I write to have some deeper themes to them when possible and this seemed like a good way to show some complexity on character's personality and moral stances that I hope people will find interesting Sihil: Fascinating stuff. I wanted to make the MC of my game a Kantian but then I wouldn't have been able to justify him not being a virgin. Anyway, we've already talked about how ORS improves upon GGGB in terms of writing What other ways do you think ORS improves upon GGGB? Of course, the comparison is a little bit "apples and oranges" kind of scenario but still. Eva: Well, aside from the mentioned deeper and richer writer and choice mechanics, and the obvious leap in production values and graphic quality... I'd say ORS is an improvement in every aspect! The only thing in which GGGB is "superior" is in character customization and wide variation of story branches (you can be a goody-two shoes or a drug-dealing gangster and everything in between), but that's because the nature of the game is different. I feel ORS is more engaging and complex, and a lot more thought and effort is being put into character writing and so on. But people have different tastes and may enjoy my older game more than the new one.
Spice: So the art aspect. Can you describe the process. Is everything hand-drawn? Do you do everything yourself? I mean the art is stunning. Sihil: Tying into this distinction between the games is how GGGB got pretty dark, at times. Being the sick bastard that I am, I am not complaining. Should we expect ORS to be get just as dark in places or will it in general be lighter in tone? I can see that there are some seeds for some storylines that can get pretty dark. Am I reading too much here? Eva: With GGGB I wanted to push the interactive branching possibilities to the extreme, so to contrast some of the "good" paths other ones became pretty wild and outlandish (and some were plain silly, haha). ORS will no doubt explore some dark plot-lines too, but they will be a bit different in nature. ORS feels in general more grounded than GGGB, and this time my goal is not so much to push branching to the extreme, but to go deeper into those interactive branching mechanics. So, dark paths, yeah, for sure. Not as outlandish, but with the deeper emotional connection the player has to ORS cast, maybe they will feel even more potent and engaging Sihil: (Quoting Spice) Also, this reminds me of the question I asked you way back in PMs. How long does it take to git gud at drawing? How do you actually improve your art? Eva: So, on the art process. I'm just publishing some posts that go in-depth into this subject on my Patreon, but so summarise: I use Photoshopand a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet to draw. I use photos as templates to base my drawings on to be able to crank up to 80+ drawing per update (which I'm pretty amazed at myself!) I manually trace the drawing on a transparent layer and then color the line-art. I used to do that myself, but with ORS I finally can afford to hire someone to help me with that, increasing the quality a ton and freeing some much needed time I can devote to other aspects, like polishing said drawings. I've been adding new techniques to make the illustrations more sexy and interesting, using ambient lights and such. In this picture you can see the different stages of the process: *Posts and image* And about getting good at art, well... Like everything, it comes from practice. Techniques like using photos as templates can really help, but some skills are still necessary to get a good result: it's important to know a bit of anatomy, and what's probably hardest is to get nice, flowing linework, especially with a tablet, since it can feel pretty strange. My advice would be to practice a lot of traditional drawing and then translating those skills to digital, using the tricks the medium offers. Sihil: As someone who generally struggles with his line quality, this is very helpful Eva: Line quality is the hardest. The only way to improve it is to draw, draw and draw. I still struggle with it, but you can clearly tell when someone has good lines when looking at the hair of the drawings Sihil: That's why the 200 IQ move is to make every character you draw bald.
Sihil: (Anyway) do you choose specific kinds of images to give your game a distinct look that it has? Eva: Line quality is the hardest. The only way to improve it is to draw, draw and draw. I still struggle with it, but you can clearly tell when someone has good lines when looking at the hair of the drawings Eva: I choose my reference pictures very carefully, trying to get the pose and angle that better represents what I have in mind. And, as you can see on that image, I sketch my characters and other differences on top of the image. You can't always trust the picture and my intention is not to make a carbon copy of it, but to use it as a sketch to get the anatomy and proportions right and create my characters on top of it Spice: well this is amazing. Really sheds a light on the whole process.
Sihil: So, George RR Martin classifies writers as architects and gardeners, architects are the ones who outline their plots a lot and gardeners generally don't. It's a spectrum, of course so would be closer to the gardener style or the architect style? Eva: I define that duality with a different metaphor. They say there are two kinds of writers, the ones who use a map (that would be the architect) and the ones who use a compass. The first ones know beforehand the route they'll take, it's clearly outlined in their map. The second ones just use the compass to guide themselves in the general direction they want to go, making the path as they walk. It's clear some outlining is necessary when writing almost anything, especially a game like this, but I'm clearly a compass writer (or gardener). I enjoy developing the story as I go, flowing with it and letting the characters surprise me and often times take me in unexpected directions. This can sometimes be troublesome and I'm trying to outline things a bit better in ORS, but if I stopped developing the game organically I would get bored: this way I feel the story and the characters are alive, just like I am. Sihil: Seems every writer has his or her own way of defining this duality. I use a vine vs a tree metaphor. I'll just leave this here and not explain it at all because I have deviated way too much from the original questions I planned to ask [ 12:05 AM ] So here's a question that I find interesting. If you were to go back in time, ignoring the butterfly effect, what one thing would you change about GGGB if you got the chance? [ 12:06 AM ] And are there any fetishes that haven't been introduced in ORS yet but will be. Any particular ones you're excited about? Eva: That's an interesting question... Honestly, I don't know. GGGB is what it is and it's brought me here, of which I'm very grateful. And to be honest, I haven't even played GGGB after finishing it, I can barely stand to look at it now :joy: I find it rather crude and amateurish and sometimes it's hard for me to remind myself of what it accomplished. I certainly worked very hard on it and it was a learning experience. What I hate the most is the graphics, but I couldn't afford to hire anyone at the time. I also dislike how some mechanics are implemented, and the coding was a pain in the ass to work with, but I didn't know better at the time, so I did the best I could with what I knew and what I had. I would change a ton of things, but I know I did the best I could at the time, so I guess the game it's OK as it is. And about fetishes, GGGB had a bit of everything, since I tried to appeal to what my patron base suggested. ORS won't have some of the more controversial ones (the PC police is eager to censor and cancel anyone these days) but I'm also glad I don't feel forced to include some fringe fetishes just because I'm making an adult game. The strength of ORS is in it's characters and their interactions, so fetishes is something that's a bit in the back of my mind. I try to write what feels exciting and that makes sense story-wise. I guess the main fetish I want to explore is emotional attachment, to the characters and the situations, both the good and bad kind! Sihil: I totally get not playing your own games but in a way, they make a great judge of how far one has come, right? Eva: Yes, that's why I like to make some comparisons! I also have a series of rather extensive articles about that in my Patreon page, titled GGGB vs ORS
Sihil: Yeah I've seen it. It was definitely very interesting. Speaking of characters, who'd be your idea voice-casting for Ian and Lena? Are there plans to include voice-acting in the game? Eva: I'm not really knowledgeable about the world of voice acting, so I can't point to any specific actor or actress. I know there's a couple that people tend to use, such as "Voice like Candy", but I haven't really looked into that. Of course it would be great to have voice acting, but my scripts are super long. ORS has already more than 450.000 words in just seven chapters, so sadly including voice acting is way out of my financial capabilities Sihil oof This brings me nicely to my next question How the fuck do you write so much so quickly? Seriously, you make others devs like me look like chumps lol Eva: have no idea, honestly. I always considered myself quite a slow artist, both in writing and drawing. I've find some tricks to greatly speed up my drawings, just like I've explained before, but the writing, I don't know. I guess it has to do with the fact that I don't really go over what I wrote (aside from proofreading). Sometimes I make changes and add or cut some stuff, but normally what you get is basically a first draft! In this business you have to publish as frequently as possible (I published monthly for more than 3 years, and now I've been forced to take a bit more time with each update) but having to do the writing, coding, drawing and community management aspect of the business, well... You don't have a lot of time to go over what you've written. And no matter how much you write, people always feel the new update was too short! So I guess the answer to your question is that I just put in a ton of hours into the project (it's the only thing that I do, mostly) And I'm really passionate about it, so that helps into putting that many hours everyday Sihil: I am amazed that what we get is so good at the very first draft Spice: People are just hooked on your games can't really blame them
Sihil: Indeed. Now let's move on from the game to you as a dev. Eva Kiss I guess it's good that they ask for more, haha Sihil: Where are you from? What did you do before developing adult games? You can answer both of these questions broadly or not at all. Eva: I'm from Barcelona, Spain. And before becoming an adult VN developer (almost by chance) I was really struggling as an artist. I barely managed to get hired for some small commissions, and did some odd jobs to earn some money. I was also an aspiring writer (just like Ian) but never managed to find success on the mainstream circuit. The good thing about not having a stable job was that I could focus on my personal projects... But seeing that I couldn't find a good job, I was planning to use my lifetime savings to go study abroad to the Feng Zhu school of design in Singapore, to be trained as concept artist (profession I was pursuing at the time) and try my luck with that. As a means to earn some extra money towards that goal, and after having discovered the adult VN scene in Patreon, I decided to try my hand at making my own little game, hoping I could get a few dollars during the next 4 or 5 months to pay for rent once in Singapore. That was my goal when I created GGGB. But the game ended up being a remarkable success, and suddenly I didn't need to go to Singapore in search of an uncertain future. I had something between my hands that was worth fostering and making grow, and now here we are Sihil: Well, even your real life has a great character arc. This pretty much answers my next question of what made you try your hand at adult games so here's the next question What's your advice to someone who's considering becoming a dev? Eva: Be passionate about it. Do it because you wouldn't like to be doing anything else. Do it because it is what you'd do even if you had all the money in the world. I feel that a lot of work and dedication is required to pull something like this off, and success is not guaranteed. I consider myself very lucky in that regard, because there's a ton of things you cannot control. So, if you don't want to despair, become a dev because creating something is what brings you joy Sihil: Great advice. I think I've grilled you enough. Do you have any questions you wanna ask, Spice: yes Eva: go ahead, this makes me feel important so ask as many questions as you want haha sihil: One dose of serotonin coming right up Spice: I just want to get an aspect of you being a female developer in the male dominated world of adult gaming? Is this something you see as a downside an upside or you don't put much attention to it? How are you finding yourself in this world of adult games. Is it generally good to you or ? Eva:” Sex and gender seems to be the most important topic in culture these days, but honestly, to me it has made no difference at all. People react to what you create, and the artist identity should only be portrayed in his art. After all, I've always worked behind a pseudonym and Eva Kiss could be seen as just another character that I use to express myself creatively. My goal when I entered the adult VN scene was to provide a new take in a genre that I felt had too many stories that felt written by a horny 15 year old boy, and a more "feminine" perspective could be refreshing and exciting. There has always been speculation about Eva Kiss' gender, and I find it funny: some people say it's clear the way some scenes are written could only have come from a woman's mind, while some other feel like they are obviously the handiwork of a male writer. In the end, a writer has to embody their characters somehow, and we all have a masculine-feminine polarity inside ourselves, maybe that's why I felt compelled to make a dual protagonist game in ORS, where you play both sides. In any case, I haven't felt that being perceived as "female" has affected my standing whatsoever as a dev, and people haven't been really interested in what's between my legs, but in the games and characters I create. And that's something I feel proud of and what an artist should aim for, I suppose. Spice: that is great to hear. One would wonder if that meant anything and Im really glad it doesn't. Sihil: Great answer. So, I think that's it. Thanks a lot for joining us, Eva Kiss, we'll be watching ORS intently. Thank you for giving so many great, well-thought-out answers. I think this is it (The rest of the conversation, though interesting, was largely off-topic)